Christian Bök

2016-17 CAST Visiting Artist

Text Festival (2011) - Bury Art Museum. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Christian Bök during a Fall 2016 class visit. Photo: Katherine Higgins.
Protein 13 (Postscript 2013) - The Power Plant. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Christian Bök on November 1, 2016 during his lecture: The Poetics of Protein 13: The Writing of Genetic Sonnets. Photo: Katherine Higgins
Protein 13 (Postscript 2013) - The Power Plant. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Genetically engineered poetry

About the Residency

At the time of his visit to MIT in fall 2019, Christian Bök was on the verge of finishing his project, The Xenotext, an example of “living poetry.” For this work, Bök used a “chemical alphabet” to translate his poem into a DNA sequence, which he implants into the genome of an unkillable bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans. Once integrated into the organism, the poem acts as a set of instructions which cause the bacterium to manufacture a protein. This response, according to the original “chemical alphabet,” is itself another text. The Xenotext therefore becomes both a durable archive for storing a poem and an operant machine for writing a poem.

The Xenotext was the focus of his CAST Visiting Artist project with Nick Montfort, Professor of Digital Media in Comparative Media Studies / Writing. Bök and Montfort have collaborated on projects since 2012, and as part of Bök’s residency, they connected with MIT faculty, students, and researchers in biosciences to advance the genetic engineering and proteomic engineering phases for The Xenotext.

Presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST).


Past Events

Lecture: The Poetics of Protein 13: The Writing of Genetic Sonnets
Tuesday, November 1, 2016 / 5:30pm
Building 3, room 270

Poetry Reading: The Unkillable Poet: Excerpts from The Xenotext (Book 1)
Thursday, November 3, 2016 / 5:30pm
MIT Museum Studio + Compton Gallery, Building 10, room 150

Class Visits
CMS. 628 Advanced Identity Representation
CMS.950 Workshop
21W.750 Experimental Writing
October 31 – November 7, 2016

Studio and Lab Visits 
MIT Museum Studio + Compton Gallery
Gene-Wei Li Lab Quantitative Biology at MIT

Collaborators at MIT

Nick Montfort, Comparative Media Studies | Writing

MIT Museum Studio + Compton Gallery


Christian Bök is a bestselling author and one of the earliest founders of Conceptual Literature, a poetic school of avant­-garde writing.

Bök is the author of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001)—a bestselling work of experimental literature—and winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize. He has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. His virtuoso recitals of “sound­ poems” have earned many accolades and he has performed lectures and readings at more than 300 venues around the world in the last four years. Bök teaches at Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia.